‘Opting out’ of MCA’s doesn’t impact college admissions

The following column appeared in a number of ECM newspapers in late March and early April, 2018

‘Opting out’ of MCAs doesn’t impact admissions

Minnesota high school students applying for colleges who “opt out” of statewide tests in reading or mathematics won’t be penalized, according to a number of colleges and university admissions staff. However, if students want to enter a two- or four-year Minnesota state college or university, they’ll need to show other evidence of their skills to avoid being placed in a remedial course that does not earn college credit. Those are my conclusions after a parent asked about this, and I checked with admissions offices at several Minnesota and Wisconsin colleges and universities.

The Minnesota Department of Education lists several results of opting out. First, students who don’t take the tests will be listed as “non-proficient.” Second, they will have to show other evidence of their math and reading skills; youngsters scoring at a certain level on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (aka MCA) reading and math tests won’t be required to take remedial courses on entering a Minnesota state college or university. And on a larger scale, students’ results affect their schools’ perceived performance: Each individual student’s score contributes to the overall test results of their school, which many people use as one way to judge a school’s effectiveness (I’ll write a future column on this issue). More information about the state Department of Education’s views of opting out is found here: http://bit.ly/2FZBIQm.

Minnesota state law allows students to opt out of its statewide MCA testing program, which is being carried out this spring. Congress requires states to test elementary and secondary students. But some students and families prefer that students not take these tests.

Representatives of Minnesota’s two- and four-year public colleges and universities told me that students opting out of MCAs have other ways to show their skills and avoid remedial courses. Two-year public colleges such as Anoka-Ramsey, Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills College, and Normandale Community College accept all applicants who have a high school degree, regardless of test scores.

Mary Jacobson, Anoka-Ramsey Community College’s chief marketing and communications officer, told me “We will accept ACT, SAT, or a student can take the Accuplacer Placement test.” Regarding using MCAs to avoid remedial courses, she said, “This is the first year that we have used MCAs, so we really can’t speak on that aspect of it being a good or bad thing.”

Amber Schultz, St. Cloud State University’s assistant vice president for admissions, marketing and recruitment, responded: “There’s no penalty for ‘opting out’ of the MCAs. We use the ACT tests for placement into reading and math courses.”

Turning to the University of Minnesota, Heidi Meyer, executive director of Office of Admissions at Twin Cities campus, wrote in part: “There is no penalty if a student opts out for statewide testing, … but we do need for a student to take either an ACT or an SAT to complete their application in order to review.”

Carleton College Vice President and Dean of Admissions Paul Thiboutot pointed out that the college reviews applicants’ “high school record, grades, courses taken, SAT or ACT scores, what teachers say, and how students spend time outside of class. Opting out of statewide testing is OK.”

Since some Minnesota students attend college in Wisconsin, I asked Emalydia Flenory, an admission advisor at the University of Wisconsin, Plattsville, about this. She explained that her university doesn’t consider statewide test scores. “We do a comprehensive review of student essays, admission test scores, grade point average and class rank,” she said.

My goal today is not to encourage or discourage opting out of the MCA testing program by high school students. But as students consider their decisions, I hope information from various colleges and universities will help produce more informed choices. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @JoeNathan9249.)